From May, UK-based broadband providers will be required to advertise more realistic speeds to their public, bringing the currently used “up to” speeds seen in advertising closer to reality.

Currently, broadband providers are allowed to advertise “up to” broadband speeds — download speeds that are available to 10 per cent of customers — instead of the average speed achieved by home broadband users.

The new regulations, designed to reduce customer complaints over differences between speeds promoted in advertising and realistic connection speeds, will limit advertising claims to download speeds achievable by at least 50% of customers during periods of peak network load.

The initiative is being handled by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), which recently found that broadband advertising is likely to mislead users about the average connection speed that can be achieved from a home connection.

Several independent studies have found that the majority of UK internet users don’t receive the connection speeds that are advertised by broadband providers. As many as 75% of broadband users have reportedly never received their advertised peak download speeds.

Under the new regulations, which will become law from May 23, broadband providers will need to advertise the median peak download speed. The CAP claims that this figure provides a more accurate representation of the speeds home broadband users can expect from regular use.

Broadband speeds are affected by numerous factors, from a user’s location and usage habits to their hardware. Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, claims that the new rules will help consumers get a “better understanding of the broadband speeds offered by different providers.”

The new regulations have been praised by Ofcom, which has supported a chance to advertising rules for broadband services.

Britain has consistently lagged behind other European countries in broadband speeds — a fact that many have attributed to misleading advertising and low service quality. In August, Britain’s average connection speed ranked 31st in the world, below New Zealand and Thailand.

Poor connection speeds have resulted in consumer and political backlash. In July, dozens of MPs backed a report calling for the introduction of financial compensation for customers that paid for broadband download speeds they did not receive.

The report, which was coordinated by the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), noted that broadband is increasingly viewed as an essential utility similar to water or gas, and that service quality in the UK had “not caught up with demand” from consumers.

Connection speeds are not the only aspect of the broadband internet industry to earn criticism from consumer advocate groups. The ASA has also investigated the use of phrases like “fiber broadband” in advertising for connections that only partially use fiber optic cabling.

Despite this, progress is being made. The average home broadband speed rose to 36.2Mbps this year, up from 28.9Mbps the year before. Internet speeds are up across the UK, although rural areas continue to lag behind urban areas in infrastructure and line speed improvement.

Elliot Preece